Brunch: Beyond Bagels
When I first started visiting Columbia County, long before living here full-time was even an inkling of an idea, let alone a plan, I noticed that folks here (and by folks, I mean weekenders) often practiced the elsewhere neglected ritual of the Sunday lunch. I ate many a glorious midday meal during my summer visits here: poached salmon, roasted lamb, food that in other places would be considered entirely too luxurious for noontime. But—summer’s over. The outdoor tables groaning with fresh corn and tomato salad and roasted pork loin are (at least as of Tuesday evening) frosted white. Even my most intrepid part-timer friends won’t make it up here quite so regularly. Maybe that’s why my weekend entertaining is getting a whole lot simpler. I like brunch.
One set of weekender friends (fabulous cooks and entertainers in their own right, more interested in Saturday dinner than Sunday lunch) disdain the whole idea of brunch. I think it makes them think of overpriced and over-sauced English muffins and lukewarm coffee, and I understand. We’ve all eaten that kind of disappointing meal. We’ve also all eaten perfectly delightful brunches consisting of no more than great bagels with all the trimmings, and fine conversation. But in the last few weeks, I started looking for something both simple and substantial to fill the Sunday late-morning void.
As I often do, I turned south, and west. Migas (literally, it means “crumbs”) is a Tex-Mex dish, one that I first tried years ago when I visited Austin, Texas for a film festival. The movies weren’t all that great, but the food was another story. I tried migas out of curiosity more than desire: Texans were obsessive about the dish so I had to see for myself. Let’s just say that it was a conversion experience. This version of migas is basically matzoh brei, but made with fried corn tortillas instead of matzoh. Oh, ok, it’s a little spicier, but you get the idea: eggs combined with starch makes a perfect breakfast combination. (The other migas is from Spain, made with stale bread instead of tortillas, and has the eggs served fried on top, instead of scrambled in.)
This is a forgiving recipe. It’s good in almost any incarnation, but truly inspired if you take a little extra time to fry up the tortilla chips yourself, and make your own spicy salsa. You only have a jar of salsa, no fresh tomatoes? No corn tortillas, but a bag of chips in the pantry? It’s still worth trying. This is hearty, casual comfort food. Don’t over-think it.
Those brunch-averse friends? They came last Sunday at noon. I suppose that could have made it lunchtime, but I wanted migas. As it turned out, so did they.
Migas (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Conde Nast, 2004)
4 thick bacon slices, cooked until crisp, then crumbled
12 corn tortillas, cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup canola, peanut or grapeseed oil (plus more as needed)
1 white onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 jalapeno chilis, seeded and finely chopped
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned tomatoes will work fine if you don’t have fresh)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
10 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated white cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
2 avocados, peeled and chopped for garnish (optional)
In a large skillet (I prefer cast iron) heat the oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Depending upon the diameter of your skillet, you may need to add more oil, enough so that the tortillas float a tiny bit on it. Add the tortillas, a handful at a time (I usually do this in four batches) and fry, turning often, until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. When all the tortillas are fried and the excess oil absorbed by towels, set aside.
Pour off the oil in the skillet so that a thin glaze remains in the pan. (If you’re not using a nonstick pan or well-seasoned cast iron, you may need to keep a bit more oil in the pan.) Add the onions, garlic and jalapenos, and saute over medium heat until softened, about five minutes. Do not brown them. Add the tomatoes, bacon and cumin, and saute until some of the tomatoes’ liquid evaporates off, leaving a nice thick salsa. Add the tortilla chips and stir gently to combine. Add the eggs and cheese, and scramble together, gently, over medium heat, until the eggs are set to your liking.
Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately, piping hot, with avocado on the side. —Paige Orloff